I realized that I had not posted the last two book reviews from the class I took, so here they are:
Someone to Run With by David Grossman is a GREAT book. It is interesting, engaging, and just a fun read. It is a book about a girl, a boy, and a dog named Dinka in Israel (but it has nothing to do with Palestine at all). It is somewhat hard to explain the story line, but it is essentially the story of a girl named Tamar trying to rescue her brother from drug addiction and the boy named Assaf who tries to return her lost dog to her. When you start reading it, for the first half of the book you feel like you are only getting half of the story, which is true. But about halfway in, things start to fall into place and it becomes one of those books that you simply cannot put down. To put it another way, it is a book that my low-performing students would like so much they would be willing to read a "long" book (it's about 350 pages).
Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk is not a novel, like the other books I read for this class, but it is still interesting. It is the description of Istanbul by someone who lived there for pretty much his entire life and it is very good. He writes somewhat "stream of consciousness" so some people would find it hard to read, but I really liked his descriptions of the city
Scheherazade Goes West by Faterma Mernissi was recommended during this class, and I got the chance to read it this weekend. It is an absolutely fascinating look at the differences in the perception of women in the west and women in the east - but it's not what you might expect. Mernissi places a distinction between how women in the east are valued and women in the west. She points out that western men have an ideal women who is beautiful, silent, and not as smart as they are. Eastern men, on the other hand, idealize women who are intelligent and can match wits with them. She uses as an example the fact that harem women, who constantly compteted with each other for attention from the pasha, could only stand out from the rest and keep his attention if they were well-read and literate and able to mentally spar with him. She uses as an example of Scheherazade and the 1001 Nights, where the only way Scheherazade is able to stave off death, and in fact end the reign of terror instilled by the sultan's practice of marrying virgins and then killing them, was to tell 1001 consecutive stories, by which point the sultan has fallen in love with her mind, not her body. Mernissi says there is a difference between the way western men confine women (with time) and the way eastern men confine women (with space). For example, eastern women are expected to wear veils in public. "Public" is public space - which is how eastern men confine women. Western men have a certain expectation of how women are supposed to look (young and beautiful), which is how they confine women with time. If you aren't a certain age or look a certain way (usually tied to age), you are no longer good for anything. I took it a step further and thought that this might be why western women are drawn to eastern men - who traditionally (although possibly unconsciously) value the mind rather than the body. I highly recommend this book.